All of us could stand to freshen up our home bartending routines, so we turned to some of our favorite D.C. bartenders and asked them what they’re drinking at home. The rules: No exotic spirits that you can’t find in a good liquor store, and no complicated directions that involve force-carbonating spirits or messing around with acid-adjusted juices. Just something they’d make for themselves while social distancing.
Andy Bixby of Dram and Grain is a culinary wizard behind the bar — his much-admired menu makes use of foams, clarified ginger beer and even ham fat — but when he’s off the clock, he goes for classics. “I always love a well-made Rob Roy,” he says. “I think in the same way that a martini is the quintessential gin drinker’s cocktail, because it is a love song to the gin and to balance, the Rob Roy is an ode to the scotch and vermouths chosen and meant to highlight the best of what’s in the glass.”
For his perfect Rob Roy, stirred in a rocks glass over ice, Bixby chooses two ounces of Glenmorangie 10-year for its “honey and stone fruit characteristics,” balanced with an ounce of Cocchi Di Torino vermouth, two dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters, a dash of Angostura and the fresh oil from an orange peel, as “it enhances the body of the cocktail and the spirit itself,” he explains.
Some bartenders have been going stir-crazy: Faith Alice Sleeper of Left Door, who has been whipping up to-go cocktails for sister bar the Passenger, shares in an email that she has made at least nine versions of a drink she’s calling the Quarentinez. “Honestly, it started because I kept hearing about everyone making ‘Quarantinis,’ and if given a choice, I would usually prefer to drink a Martinez over a martini,” she says.
The Martinez, an antecedent of the martini, is made with 1½ ounces each of gin and sweet vermouth, and ¼ ounce of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, with two dashes of orange bitters and oil from a lemon peel. “Most recipes call for Old Tom Gin, which is sweeter than London Dry,” Sleeper says, though she cautions it comes down to personal preference, and thus encourages experimentation — which explains those nine versions, each with a different gin. The current winner is the Spanish Gin Mare, “which uses olives/basil/thyme in the botanicals and makes a tasty Martinez with notes of balsamic vinegar and dark chocolate.” (She later apologizes for going overboard with tasting notes: “I haven’t been able to really talk booze with anyone in a week and holy crap do I miss it.”)
Others are using this time to make drinks that they’ve yet to put on menus. Brian Nixon of Truxton Inn and McClellan’s Retreat opts for a “very simple and delicious” concoction that his girlfriend dubbed the Pearl: 2¼ ounces of Joven tequila, ¾ ounce of dry vermouth and ½ ounce of brine straight from a store-bought jar of pearl or cocktail onions, which is stirred, strained over ice and served with a spear of yet more onions. “This is something I love making at home because I don’t have the bartender looking at me like I’m crazy,” he admits.
Need more inspiration? The following five ideas should keep you busy. If your liquor cabinet is looking a little threadbare, some D.C. distilleries, including Cotton and Reed and Don Ciccio and Figli, are open to sell bottles to go, while Republic Restoratives offers both curbside pickup as well as delivery within the city. Liquor stores with delivery services include Ace Beverage, Cairo and Schneider’s, and don’t forget that many D.C. restaurants are now allowed to sell bottles of spirits with food delivery.
Jake Kenny, the Royal
“One of my favorite drinks to make at home is a classic daiquiri,” says Jake Kenny, the bar manager at the Royal. “It’s incredibly easy to make at home but packs a surprising amount of complexity.”
The LeDroit Park restaurant and bar is known for its Colombian cuisine, so Kenny puts what he calls “a Royal twist” on the humble daiquiri with a pop of aji, a spicy and refreshing Colombian salsa. The liquid “adds an herbaceous quality to an otherwise bright and refreshing cocktail,” Kenny explains. The aji can be modified to taste — some versions have tomatoes, others use vinegar — but it conveniently also provides a snack to be enjoyed with chips while mixing these cocktails.
Recipe: Aji Daiquiri
Andrea Tateosian, Silver Lyan and the DC Craft Bartenders Guild
“In times like these, it’s tough for me to justify purchasing something just for use in a cocktail, so I would rather get creative with what is already in my kitchen,” says Andrea Tateosian, the president of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild. Her Stoop, Baby can be customized in endless ways, using whatever tea and fruit you have on hand. “Make it with grapefruit oleo, tequila and lemongrass tea if you like palomas,” she suggests, “or whiskey, earl grey and soda to switch up your highball.” The key is oleo saccharum, which sounds like an ingredient from a laboratory, but is really just a process that pulls essential oils from citrus using sugar.
Recipe: Stoop, Baby
Mojito Criollo No. 3
From Constantino Ribalaigua Vert of El Floridita in Havana
Selected by Chris Hassaan Francke, the Green Zone
“I tend to just make classics if I make cocktails at home at all,” says Chris Hassaan Francke, the well-traveled bartender behind the Green Zone, an Adams Morgan cocktail bar dedicated to the flavors of the Middle East. “I’m a rum guy, and am likely enough to just make myself a daiquiri.” However, one of Francke’s go-to cocktails is a classic rum drink made with a different spirit.
Havana’s El Floridita bar is known as the birthplace of the frozen daiquiri and for its connections to Ernest Hemingway. In 1935, legendary bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert published a book of cocktail recipes that’s loved by drink historians. It includes three variations of the mojito: Number 1, with Bacardi; Number 2, with Gordon’s Gin, and Number 3, with Soberano cognac. “I’ve never seen [the cognac version] on a menu anywhere,” Francke says. “Cognac, lemon and mint are absolutely delicious together, and I love mojitos in all forms.”
Recipe: Mojito Criollo No. 3
South American White Wine Spritzer
Glendon Hartley, Service Bar
“When I’m at home, the most practical thing to make are wine spritzers or spritzes,” says Glendon Hartley, the co-founder of U Street’s popular Service Bar. “We have a lot of white wine, pisco, rum and vermouth at my house.”
Hartley’s South American twist on the white wine spritzer is a cool, low-alcohol summer cocktail, but it’s easily customizable based on your preferences or what you’ve got in your wine rack. A Chilean sauvignon blanc adds a richer, bigger flavor when combined with grapey pisco, while switching to riesling makes for a drier cocktail. Parents with small children will appreciate the use of clementines for flavor and garnish — the orange oils really add a pop to the drink, and the fruit is nice to snack on while drinking.
Sarah Rosner, Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons
Bourbon Steak’s Sarah Rosner is known for her playful and delicious cocktails. Think of the Walk About as a refined Screwdriver, with turmeric providing earthy spice, the honey supplying sweetness and a richer body, and the soda water adding a seasonal fizz.
“If we can’t take an actual walk about outside, this is the next best thing,” she says.
Recipe: Walk About
If you prefer visual learning to reading recipes, some local bars offer video recipes and demonstrations online.
Service Bar’s YouTube channel, which launched in late March, shows chatty co-founder Chad Spangler making Espresso Martinis, Pina Coladas and other drinks in his kitchen, and cover the types of tools and syrups needed. Some episodes cover nuts and bolts instead of recipes: Spangler’s “Martini Tips” video discusses the science behind the age-old “shaken or stirred?” question, as well as how to order the martini you really want.
The staff of McClellan’s Retreat and Truxton Inn post new shorts on the McClellan’s Retreat Instagram page (@mccretreat) each week. Most feature bartenders making classics, such as the Vesper and the Black Manhattan, and originals from the bar’s drink menu. Some are more required viewing than others — unless you really need to “learn” how to make a vodka soda.
A bonus: Both bars offer PayPal and Venmo links, so you can tip your bartender after making a drink.